Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alfonso Chikuni, has said he is surprised with how Ministry of Lands officials calculate money for compensation for people displaced in government-run projects, saying they are alarmingly and unrealistically too high.
Appearing before a joint parliamentary committee on Wednesday in Lilongwe to update legislators on the status of the country’s mega water project, the $435 million Lake Malawi Water Project, Chikuni wondered how the Ministry of Lands comes up with such huge compensation figures.
“At Kamuzu 1 Dam Project, we calculated that we would pay K500 million in compensating people that would be resettled because of the project. But we were surprised that the ministry came up with a K1.5 billion figure. However, this is not in our control but we are surprised as well,” he said.
He also said LWB was surprised when Ministry of Lands officials came up with a $25,000 figure for compensation at Diamphwe Dam yet most of the activities were to do with relocation of 19 cemeteries and reburying the dead.
“This precedence will have an effect on the development of the country because everybody will be thinking there is Christmas money during compensation,” he said.
LWB is raising the Kamuzu 1 Dam, the main source of Lilongwe City’s water and he said the works would finish in 2025.
“Maybe we should be engaging independent consultants (to make evaluations). To us, the amount is atrocious. For Diamphwe, we had to send the compensation figures back to them twice and they managed to reduce it from the initial K23 million to K19 million,” he said.
In addition, Chikuni said, the board pays Lands officials K6 million for any compensation calculation exercise that the officials undertake on behalf of LWB.
Joseph Chidanti Malunga, Chairperson of the joint committee of Parliament of Public Accounts (Pac), Agriculture, Irrigation and Water and Budget and Finance indicated the committee might summon Ministry of Lands officials to defend themselves on the issue.
Chikuni also told the parliamentarians that the board has set aside some money for the compensation of the people affected by the Diamphwe Dam Project as the government is looking for new investors to take over construction of the dam following the pulling out of the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
Ministry of Lands spokesperson, Charles Vintulla, said it was only the Commissioner of Lands who was in a position to comment on the compensation issue.
However, three days after sending a questionnaire, the Commissioner of Lands was yet to respond.
Vintulla, however, dismissed Chikuni’s suggestion to hire independent consultants to evaluate land for compensation, saying it would be illegal.
“The current law rests all issues of land evaluation and compensation in the government only. Unless the law changes in future,” he said.
Issues of resettlement compensation have delayed most major government projects, including construction of roads and hospitals in some parts of the country.